NICOLA Sturgeon has praised a senior Nationalist MP at the centre of bullying allegations as a “massive asset” to the party.

The First Minister said Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s justice and home affairs spokeswoman at Westminster, is “hugely talented” as she denied her party is struggling with infighting.

It comes after Ms Cherry dismissed allegations by former employees as “politically motivated smears” and accused SNP bosses of a lack of support.

Yesterday, a second ex-staffer took to Twitter and claimed Ms Cherry threatened a female employee with a disciplinary hearing when she challenged the MP’s decision to make her “work back time” for attending an abnormal cervical cancer smear consultation.

Speaking to Radio Clyde, Ms Sturgeon said: “Firstly, Joanna is hugely talented. She’s a massive asset to the SNP and to the Westminster parliamentary group, and I think everybody recognises that.

“Secondly, where complaints are brought forward by the staff of any parliamentarian, it’s important that they are properly considered.

“But that should happen under due process, not in the pages of the media.”

Asked if there is a problem with infighting in the SNP, she said: “No, I don’t think there is.

“The SNP is not just a big party, we represent a mass movement, and that’s a real strength and attribute, and something that most other leaders of most other parties would give their eye teeth for.

“There are vibrant debates. That’s a good thing in democracy. But I lead a party that’s very focused, in the short term, on winning the European elections, and then beyond that giving people in Scotland the opportunity to choose independence and then winning that argument, so that Scotland can become that progressive, independent European nation.”

Ms Sturgeon stressed: "My focus as SNP leader is firstly on winning the European elections next week, because that's how we send the strongest possible message that Scotland doesn't want Brexit.

READ MORE: Parliamentary authorities will probe Joanna Cherry bullying claims - Ian Blackford 

"Then, of course, in the legislation we will bring forward later this month in taking the steps to give people in Scotland a choice of independence later in this term of Parliament. That's my focus as SNP leader and I think that is what the party is focused on."

Ms Cherry is accused of condoning alleged bullying by her office manager Fraser Thompson, with complaints reportedly lodged with the House of Commons last August.

Iona Paton, a former caseworker for the politician, broke cover at the weekend and insisted “people should know the truth”.

The 28-year-old told The Herald on Sunday: “I couldn’t stay silent any more when she started saying she was the victim of online bullying, when she knew she was dealing with all these complaints of bullying against her and Fraser.”

Ms Cherry recently spoken out about online abuse and revealed she was given police protection after receiving an apparent death threat.

Yesterday, another of the MP’s former staff members made claims on Twitter in response to a message of support for the politician.

They said: “Would a ‘kind, principled, dedicated woman and an inspirational feminist’ threaten a female employee with a disciplinary hearing when she challenged Joanna Cherry’s decision to make her work back time for an abnormal cervical cancer smear consultation?

“Would the above also back-track and try and force the employee to ‘self-certify’ as sick when she challenged said decision?”

An SNP spokesman said: "The party takes its welfare responsibilities to all our members - including parliamentarians and staff - extremely seriously. We expect all members to treat staff with respect and any complaints should be resolved through the appropriate processes."

Over the weekend, Ms Cherry dismissed allegations against her as “smears” and called for “unity behind the independence cause and an end to SNP infighting".

She also hit out at the lack of support from the “SNP hierarchy” and said “lies” were being told about her in newspapers.

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry: what Nicola Sturgeon knew about employee's complaints 

The Edinburgh South West MP told The Herald on Sunday: “I am not and never have been a bully. Fraser Thompson is not a bully either. I believe these to be politically motivated smears.”

Mr Thompson said he was “confident staff were treated appropriately and managed in line with House of Commons HR policy and practice”.

An SNP source said it was “just bizarre” for Ms Cherry to hit out at the party hierarchy.

They added: “She is a frontbench MP, and she’s on the ruling National Executive Committee. She is the party hierarchy.”